National Geographic : 2013 Jul
Yacare Caiman 131 them on the spot and left the rest to the vul- tures,” Alho says. “I used to come upon piles of dead yacares rotting on the embankments. Fieldwork in those days wasn’t just depressing, it was dangerous as well, since the coureiros— the leather men—could be extremely aggres- sive.” A Brazilian government crackdown on poaching and a 1992 global ban on the trade of wild crocodilian skins eased the pressure on the beleaguered yacare population. The crocs them- selves did the rest. After a string of intense rainy seasons—ideal for breeding—caiman num- bers rebounded dramatically. As many as ten million yacare caimans are estimated to live in the wetlands today. Even so, the yacare caiman is not yet out of the mire, warns Alho. “ The thriving population in the Pantanal threatens to mask the problems the species is facing elsewhere in South America, where poaching continues and populations are vanishing.” Within the Pantanal itself, threats still loom: deforestation, dams, tourism, mining, seaport development. But for now at least, in the steamy aftermath of another bountiful wet season, the kings of the Pantanal seem secure on their throne. — Roff Smith With the onset of the dry season, schools of fish abandon the Pantanal’s shallow pools and swim toward deeper river waters—and often into the mouths of hungry caimans.